Who are we at Southwark Cathedral? That’s something that we’ve been thinking about and the Feast of Christ the King has been the day on which we shared with the congregation the result of all the thinking, talking and praying that we’ve been engaged in.
We’ve had a ‘mission statement’ for the last fifteen years and, to be honest, it has served as well. The language of mission statements is of course something that is not just that of the church. Almost every business and institution will have worked at expressing who they are and letting that shape their priorities and strategy. But after a time new life has to be breathed into how we understand and express the reality of our lives both to ourselves and to those who we would like to become part of that ongoing and developing life.
Did Jesus have a mission statement? If he did I would like to think it was what we read in St John’s Gospel
‘I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.’ (John 10.10)
The generous love of God, the overflowing life that Jesus brings to us is something which I hope lies at the heart of everything that we do at Southwark Cathedral. I suppose we could have just taken those words of Jesus but we have to also be able to express what that means to us and for us.
So after time away for the clergy team, after working as a Chapter, after talking to other people, the staff, volunteers, we have come up with a final form for the new mission-vision statement. I have discovered new words in the process – iteration for instance. So after various iterations, versions, the result is this
an inclusive Christian community
growing in orthodox faith and radical love
We hope that it is memorable, we hope that it describes both who are we are who we wish to be more fully, we hope that it will provoke discussion and we hope that it will give us fresh energy in our engagement with the church and the communities that we seek to serve in Christ’s name, at all levels.
There is a great deal that I want to say about it but at the moment I will restrict myself to saying what I think four key words are about.
The first is ‘inclusive’. It seemed to us that whatever else we would say about the Cathedral we would say that it is and we want it to be, inclusive. That means, and we mean this genuinely, that all are welcome. Criticism has been levelled at us in the past that we are inclusive of those who agree with us but less open to those who don’t. At times that criticism has been unfair but on occasions not. As some say ‘liberals can be very illiberal.’ The Church of England has embraced the concept and the ideal of ‘mutual flourishing’. It was not just a way of getting the legislation to ordain women as bishops through the Synodical process, I believe that it is genuinely meant. The recent ‘Shared Conversations’ that I have taken part in on the subject of human sexuality have been another example of the way in which we want to see each other flourish. So we are glad to be inclusive and we believe that in our diversity, in our openness, we genuinely embody that but that we can do even more, so that every sister, every brother flourishes in Christ and bears the fruits of the Spirit.
My second word is ‘growing’. Since I first knew the Cathedral it has grown in every way – in numbers at services, in confidence in its own calling and charism, in depth of spirituality, in its identity as a place in which truth is spoken, in the quality of liturgy and preaching. But given that it’s very easy to become complacent and to sit back and say as it says in one of the parables
“And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” (Luke 12.19)
Jesus says to his hearers that we need to be ‘rich towards God’ and for us that means continuing to grow that the kingdom may be seen in our life.
The third word, and it may be a surprising and challenging one, is ‘orthodox’. We are sometimes accused of being revisionist, I know that is a charge levelled at me sometimes. When we were talking about our own faith, about our teaching and preaching the clergy felt that, in fact, that we share a very orthodox understanding of faith and doctrine. The formal definition of that word, when it doesn’t have a capital O is
‘Following or conforming to the traditional or generally accepted rules or beliefs of a religion, philosophy, or practice.’
You may find this disappointing. After all, isn’t Southwark Cathedral the ‘Honest to God’ church, aren’t we part of ‘South Bank religion’? All of that is certainly in our history and to some extent the DNA of the diocese. But it doesn’t quite express where we are now. We want to continue challenging, questioning, working with doctrine, scripture, the tradition and seeing where the Spirit is taking us. We accept Hooker’s definition of Anglicanism from his ‘Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity’ (1594) as standing on ‘scripture, reason and tradition’ and we believe that this is basis from which to engage in rich theological discourse – and that is what we want to do.
And it finds it’s expression in the final of my four words ‘radical’. How can we be both orthodox and radical? Well we believe that we can and we believe that we do and that this juxtaposition is not of opposites but where faith takes us. When I read the gospels I read of Jesus ‘fulfilling the law and the prophets’ (Matthew 5.17) and yet saying to the open-mouthed crowd of the self-righteous
‘Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.’ (Matthew 21.31)
‘Orthodox faith and radical love’ – that really excites me and I think it gives us a great basis on which to build our life. Out of this flow ‘Marks of our Community’ and a ‘Rule of Life’ for the people of our community. But maybe this is enough to be going on with.
We need your prayers please. If you are reading this you are probably already interested in what we are doing at Southwark Cathedral and if you are, please join us in prayer and join us in any way you can and grab that ‘life in all its fullness’ that Jesus brings.
God of our life,
may we grow in faith and love,
with confidence in you,
alive in Jesus Christ.